By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, September 13, 2019
Despite all of his recent individual success – highlighted by winning gold at this year’s Pan American Games and swimming the second-fastest American time this year in the 400 individual medley – Charlie Swanson remains the consummate teammate.
Yes, he has his own individual goals he wants to attain this year in his final collegiate season at the University of Michigan, specifically making the finals and earning points in both the 400 IM and 200 breaststroke at NCAAs.
And while he’d consider those to be individual successes, his focus is on his team’s success. After finishing second behind Indiana University the past few years at Big Ten Championships, he feels this year’s team has a good shot at bringing the Championship trophy back to Ann Arbor.
In his view, that would be the ultimate measure of success.
“Of course, I have my own goals for my final year of collegiate swimming, but if we, as a team, could win the Big Ten Championship and place very high at NCAAs, then that would be the most important thing for me,” Swanson said. “Team goals always come first, which might be difficult for some people to understand because swimming is viewed as such an individual sport.
“But when you are surrounded by teammates that you want to see succeed and who want you to succeed, it makes the team atmosphere and connection stronger. Team success is always more important to me. It always has been.”
Growing up, Swanson played team sports baseball and soccer and didn’t get involved with swimming until he was 10. He swam summer league that first year, and his mom, Mary, recognized his promise and wanted to get him involved with year-round club swimming.
Eventually, he found his way to NOVA of Virginia Aquatics, and it didn’t take long for his swimming future to take root and flourish.
“When I started out, it was clear to my mom and other parents (at summer league) that I was better than the average swimmer,” Swanson said. “I stopped all other sports in the eighth grade, and really took a strong interest in swimming my sophomore year. It hasn’t stopped since. My passion has just continued to grow.”
Swanson parlayed that early promise into a spot on the 2015 Junior World Championship team, and a year later in Omaha, he made the finals of the 400 IM at Olympic Trials.
After swimming a then-personal best 4:19.85 in the prelims, he went 4:21.62 for a seventh-place finish in the evening finals.
But in the three-plus years he’s been at Michigan – working with distance guru Mike Bottom and his staff – Swanson has dropped significant time. At Pan Ams, he went 10 seconds faster than at Trials to erase the field and win gold in 4:11.46.
Not only did he lead from the start of the race, but Swanson distanced himself more and more from the field throughout the race to win by almost 8 seconds and come within .32 of setting a new meet record set in 2007. His time also placed him second in the United States behind Jay Litherland (silver at Worlds) and among the top 5 times in the world in 2019.
Suffice it to say that, while he wasn’t surprised by his swim, especially after going 4:16 in morning prelims, Swanson was surprised how strong and fast he felt during the race – and how easy the swim went from start to finish.
Now, he’s more excited than ever to race next year at Trials – although he’s focused on his team and NCAA swimming in the meantime.
“It’s true – I now feel more than I ever have before that I can be a strong contender next year to make the Olympic team, but the United States has a lot of great IM swimmers, so I will need to step up my game even more to make that happen,” he said.
“Swimming at Pan Ams really opened my eyes to what I’m capable of doing in swimming. I had been training all summer just for this event – for this meet – so I felt really prepared and ready. But I couldn’t believe how easy the race went. I was feeling it by the freestyle leg of the race, but I had built such a lead through the first three legs that I didn’t have to worry.”
Now, with his final season at Michigan starting soon and graduation coming in December 2020, Swanson said he knows significant change and opportunity are approaching.
Still, he said he feels more than prepared for what’s coming in the pool. As far as life outside of the water, he’s not particularly sure what he wants to do next – but he does know he has several opportunities.
Knowing he has the belief and confidence of his coaches, family and teammates has helped raise his own self-confidence, and he’s ready for what’s still to come.
“I’m not sure that I’ll go the professional swimmer route (after college); a lot will depend on what I do next summer (at Trials),” said Swanson, an economics major with a minor in entrepreneurship. “I did a marketing internship this summer, and that taught me that marketing might not be my thing moving forward. It was a great experience to see how all the business pieces fit together.
“One thing I do know is that where I previously had doubts about myself as a competitive swimmer, I don’t feel those any more, and that gives me hope that a future as a professional is a possibility. As long as I’m still enjoying it and doing well, I will most likely keep swimming. But I’m also looking forward to my post-swimming career. It’s great to know I have options.”